It could be better

Growing up in Britain, one learns how to stiffen one’s lip in the face of adversity. No matter how something is—good or bad—one simply needs to say ‘could be worse’ and all will become right with the world.

It doesn’t matter if the greatest fortune besets you or the illest will, it always, always could be worse. Depending on the context, it’s either an aloof dismissal or an attempt at modesty. It’s a good way to hide what you genuinely feel about something because you don’t know how the truth might be received, not dissimilar to saying ‘not bad’ for something that is either unforgivably terrible or orgasmically pleasurable.

Something bugs me about it this because I think it also serves as an excuse or a call to apathy.

How low are you letting the bar sink if something could always be worse? There really is no limit to it, is there?

What if—and hear me out on this because it’s going to sound crazy—it could be better? What if the bar has sunk too low and it needs to be lifted back up again? Even more: what if you knew how to do that or could help make it happen and, you know, make it actionable?

I work in the world of tech, and the process of ideating, designing, building, testing and releasing software is a volatile equation in which the variables can change at any time. Take a specialist in any one stage of the feedback loop and most likely you learn about all of the things that could be improved, as well as all of the things that are just ‘lived with’ because they’re low priority. Some of those things will demand more attention than others, naturally, because they have a greater impact.

Take tech debt as an example: ask a developer about a codebase and I’m sure you’ll be told it sucks, but it gets the job done. Could be worse, right!? After all, there was a pragmatic trade-off between deliverability and quality because something needed to be released and everyone has a different take on quality too.

Of course, you can’t fix everything and much of it is a matter of perspective. But suppose you weren’t content and wanted to do something.

It’s super easy to fall into the trap of just pointing out all the things that could be better which—without some kind of action or plan—doesn’t offer much itself. I’ve done it a few times, especially when I feel emotionally attached to a project but don’t feel fully equipped to action all of the things I’d like to do (not to mention, not really knowing if my opinions have agreement). In that mindset, it can be hard to cherry-pick the highlights and draw up more detailed proposals, but once you narrow it down you can start looking at making your wishes come true.

What about something more intimate: yourself? If I learned anything over the past few years of working remote, it’s how withdrawn I became both in terms of lifestyle and emotion. I had a litany of comforting excuses that all reminded me how worse it could be without really driving me to want better for myself and to then be it. Can’t put all of that on my mental health even if it did exacerbate the issue.

As usual, I start writing these without really knowing where I’m taking the thought. Ultimately, even if the action isn’t forthcoming, a switch in mindset to ‘could be better’ can, in many cases, set you up for better. If you think something could be worse, you’ll live with it being worse and won’t ever expect anything else.